Ruling

00456-16 McConnell v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald

    • Date complaint received

      26th May 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00456-16 McConnell v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 

Summary of complaint

1.    The Rt Hon Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in an article headlined “Sister of ex First Minister stole £9k from 80-year-old”, published on 3 February 2016. It was published online with the headline “Anne McConnell, the sister of former First Minister Jack McConnell, has this week admitted stealing £9,000 from an 80-year-old woman she cared for”.

2.    The article was a report of the complainant’s sister’s appearance in court, where she admitted stealing £9,000 from a woman who was in her care. The first version of the online article, and the print version, reported that the court had heard that “she even claimed to cops her brother would pay back the sum”. The article noted that one of her brothers is the complainant, the former First Minister of Scotland.

3.    The complainant said that naming him in the article, including prominently in the headline, was a breach of Clause 9. He said that he had not been named during the hearing, and at no point had anyone specified to which of the woman’s brothers she had been referring. The article had initially been published online without any comment from the complainant, and he said that it was a breach of Clause 1 to publish without giving him an opportunity to respond to the suggestion that he was the brother who would be assisting his sister with repaying the money.

4.    The newspaper did not believe that it had breached the Editors’ Code. The defendant had told police that one of her brothers would repay the money, and therefore the complainant – as one of the woman’s brothers – was genuinely relevant to the story. The fact that the complainant was a former First Minister, and now a peer, meant that the possibility that it was him who would repay the money was firmly in the public interest.

5.    The newspaper noted that at a later hearing of the case the court had heard evidence that the complainant’s sister had been asked by police “have you spoken to Jack yet?” and she had replied “not yet”; this showed that the complainant had not been simply incidental to the proceedings. The newspaper said that the article had not specifically stated that the complainant was the brother being referred to, and the complainant’s office had been contacted for a response. His response had been added to an updated version of the online article, and included in the print edition; it quoted his office as saying “Jack McConnell is not involved in this court case in any way. He has never been asked to contribute to any payment and is not making any payment in relation to these proceedings.” The newspaper did not believe that any reader could have had a negative view of the complainant’s connection to the case.

6.    The original version of the online article reported the woman’s claim that her brother would repay the money, but did not include the complainant’s statement (which had not at that stage been received). The amended version of the online article did not reference the defendant’s claim that her brother would repay the money but, as previously noted, did include the complainant’s statement. The print version of the article reported the defendant’s claim and followed it by reporting that she has two brothers, and including the complainant’s statement that he was not involved in any way.

Relevant Code provisions

7.    Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

(i)  The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

(ii)  A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

(iii)   A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

(iv)   The press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

(i)   Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

The public interest

3. The Regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so. 

Findings of the Committee

8.    The Committee understood that the complainant had not been named during the hearing, and that it was not established to which brother his sister may have been referring. However, the newspaper was entitled to explain what had been heard in court and, in circumstances where a reference had been made to one of the defendant’s brothers without him being named, to note that one of the woman’s brothers was a prominent public figure. The complainant was genuinely relevant to the report of the proceedings, and there was no breach of Clause 9.

9.    The newspaper was entitled to report what had been heard in court, and was not required to independently investigate the truth of the claims made there. None of the versions of the article had stated that the complainant would be repaying the money. While the Committee acknowledged that the original version of the online article had given the impression that the complainant may have been the brother involved, it did not state this as fact, and it had later been established in court that he was in fact the brother being referred to. In all the circumstances, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not establish any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 29/01/2016

Date decision issued: 09/05/2016